At the age of 13, John Kastner began working as a clerk at Stan’s Village Market in Sebringville, a village 10 minutes outside of Stratford. Stan’s provided everything ‘you needed today’ including milk, meat and chewing tobacco. John and his boss would travel most mornings to a fresh fruit market in Grimsby. After ensuring the quality of the peaches, through a tasting of course, John would sell the fruit out of a full truck.
Coming from a small town, John was apprehensive about school in the big city of Stratford but soon got involved in sports. Often sitting on the bench of his school team, John had the time to learn from his basketball coach who was regimented in his approach to preparation. John recited the coach's line when the game was deadlocked with a few seconds to go: ‘And boys this is why we practice’. John later became a paperboy, worked as a reporter and rose through the ranks to become managing editor at The Beacon Herald, Stratford’s local daily newspaper. He wrote newspaper stories for over 33 years.
John is currently responsible for writing the story of the Stratford-Perth Museum where he is the General Manager, as job he is well for as his family arrived in the Stratford area in 1832. The Stratford-Perth Museum is not the stereotypical museum, full of dusty exhibitions that don’t change for years, the museum that almost every child avoids during the family visit. Exhibitions change regularly and often address a challenging issue from persecution (Anne Frank in 2016), to identity (Masks in 2017). to minorities (Nanuk’s Journey). Attendance has grown from 853 annual visitors in 2013, when John began his stint to, 11,000 in 2016.
WHAT MAKES STRATFORD SPECIAL?
Three things immediately come to mind: live theatre, the culinary experience and community. The Stratford Festival presents a dynamic mix of fun, appealing theatre and thought provoking theatre. With the theatre operating since the early 1950’s, there has been a continuity that has allowed for a family of contributors to develop. The incredible variety and number of world class restaurants means you never have to go to the same restaurant for over twenty meals. Finally, you can stand at any corner street and you will have three people ask what you are looking for. It is such a safe, inviting place.
HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED THE MUSEUM?
Museums don’t have to be old and outdated. History is fascinating and I have tried to add a progressive and exciting element to Stratford-Perth that is appealing to as many folks as possible. Collaborating with the Stratford Festival was monumental in our progress. They approached us about doing something together. One of the things was to create a display at the Festival Theatre.
WHAT ARE YOUR EXHIBITIONS FOR THIS YEAR?
We have four very exciting exhibitions in addition to our regular displays.
Conceal/Reveal explores identity and the masks we hold up to face the world – to reveal our desired identity or conceal an inner self. Through a dazzling range of props and costumes, the Stratford Festival’s 2017 exhibition will show how onstage masks and disguises are at the heart of drama. The Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a Canadian play based in the Arctic and presented at the Studio Theatre, is the inspiration for two incredible travelling exhibits at the Museum.
The Franklin Expedition examines traditional Inuit knowledge, the reasons behind the fatal expedition in search of the Northwest Passage and the clues collected during the initial research efforts. Supporting the exhibit will be a number of reproductions of Franklin Expedition artifacts, dive equipment, photos and resource materials.
Treasure Island, at the Avon Theatre, enables visitors, both young and old, to dress up like Long John Silver, grab a sword, sport an eye patch and pose for a picture on the deck of a pirate ship. Or you can be a young Jim Hawkins and quietly hide in a barrel for safety. There’s even a treasure map.
Nanuk’s Journey features 17 major sculptures from the AGO’s Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection. Focussed on the subject of Nanuk (the polar bear), the exhibition complements the Stratford Festival’s The Breathing Hole, a new play by Colleen Murphy directed by Reneltta Arluk (Gwich’in and Chipewyan-Cree).
SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE MUSEUM?
There is a trail at the site used for walking and snowshoeing. Several of our visitors tour the exhibitions for about an hour and a half. They then enjoy a walk and a picnic lunch. It’s interesting how visitors need time to digest the experience afterwards as traveling through history can be emotionally challenging. During the last few years, an outdoor skating rink is built each winter, right in front of the museum.
WHY DID YOU STAY IN STRATFORD?
During my time at the newspaper, I saw many of my colleagues come and go. It was typical for journalists to move to other newspapers for advancement. I have friends who have moved on to various media companies from Toronto Star to ABC News. I never left. Actually, I never even really considered it. I had a young family and felt so contented here. The relationships and support network I have in Stratford is so special. If I pull off to the side of the road, it’s only a matter of minutes before someone stops and asks if they can help with gas.
WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IN STRATFORD?
When you come to Stratford, it’s not the same as going to a casino town or city. There is a lot here to do beyond the theatre. After the theatre, don’t immediately jump back on the bus. Check out the cool shops, Stratford Art Gallery and, of course, the museum. Many come to town and even love just grabbing fries in a parking lot from Ken’s French Fries or enjoying a beverage or meal at Mercer’s.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?
Colleen Murphy's new play The Breathing Hole is the tale of a polar bear and the humans it encounters over 500 years, including Inuit, the Franklin Expedition and passengers and crew of an Arctic cruise ship. Indigenous people have rarely been part of stage. The Festival has not only brought in Inuit actors but they have brought in their first Inuit director, which is about breaking down the power structure.
Edison’s is very pleased to be partnering with the Stratford-Perth Museum. On the second floor, guests will find a display of an original voice recorder invented by Thomas Edison. The Stratford-Perth Museum is short drive outside of the city (5 minutes) or a 30 minute walk from downtown. The museum is open 9-5 seven days a week.